Dickinson State University softball players remembered as foundation of teamDICKINSON, N.D. – Jody Lantz supported herself against a wall and choked back tears following Tuesday night’s prayer service honoring the lives of her three Dickinson State softball teammates.
By: Dustin Monke, Forum Communications Co.
DICKINSON, N.D. – Jody Lantz supported herself against a wall and choked back tears following Tuesday night’s prayer service honoring the lives of her three Dickinson State softball teammates.
“It’s just been a struggle,” said Lantz, a senior third baseman for the Blue Hawks. “It’s just been a lot of crying, confusion, frustration and my stomach is turning. Now that we know. It’s just horrible. No one wanted this.”
Hundreds attended a prayer service on campus to honor the lives of Kyrstin Gemar, Ashley Neufeld and Afton Williamson, whose bodies were found inside a submerged Jeep Cherokee on Tuesday afternoon in a stock pond northwest of Dickinson.
The women had been reported missing Sunday night after they reportedly placed two frantic phone calls to teammates.
Forty-three hours later, the DSU Student Center ballroom served as a gathering place for hundreds during a prayer service.
Classes at the university were cancelled Tuesday and athletic events have been temporarily halted. DSU athletic director Roger Ternes said there had been no decision made regarding the weekend’s activities.
DSU first-year head coach Kristen Fleury, who played two years for the Blue Hawks and had been an assistant coach the past two seasons, said she appreciated the outpouring of emotion but added that the service was a moment she hoped would never come.
“It’s the longest two days of my life,” Fleury said. “It’s been hard for everybody. It’s not a happy ending, but I’m glad we found them and the three of them are above us and now they’re always watching us, and on the field with us, and in the classroom.
“Everything we do, they’ll always be above us.”
Guy Fridley, who resigned as DSU’s head softball coach and women’s basketball coach in late July, said the past two days have been painful.
“There’s no question, there’s a piece of my heart tore out today,” Fridley said.
Fridley recruited both Neufeld and Gemar to DSU, where they quickly excelled and helped build a program that had been having limited success into an NAIA powerhouse and a yearly national-title contender.
Gemar will be remembered not only as a powerful designated hitter, but also a clutch performer who lifted the team to victory more than once.
Fridley said he watched as fans took an immediate liking to Gemar because of her power-hitting abilities. However, he said few realized the softer side she displayed off from the field.
“They don’t see the heart, the character that Kyrstin presented day in and day out,” Fridley said.
Neufeld was part of the foundation of DSU’s rise from a regional to national power. The Blue Hawks reached the national tournament for the first time in 2007, Neufeld’s freshman year.
Last May, the Blue Hawks finished third at the national tournament and were expected to again be key contributors as the team prepares to make a run at the championship again next spring.
“Ashley is one of those kids who left everything on the field,” Fridley said. “She’s a big part of what we built at Dickinson State.
Williamson was the first recruit signed by Fleury after she took over the head coach position in late July.
Williamson was in her first semester at DSU after transferring from Riverside Community College in California.
Neufeld was a native of Brandon, Manitoba, Gemar was from Grossmont, Calif., and Williamson was from Lake Elisnore, Calif.
Ternes said it spoke to the women’s character that they would travel so far from home to take a shot at playing softball at a university they knew little about.
“They took a chance to come to western North Dakota with a dream of playing softball and they did an excellent job of that,” Ternes said. “It’s just unfortunate that a tragedy had to occur.”
Dustin Monke is a reporter for The Dickinson (N.D.) Press, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.